Inside the mind of a burglar

Inside the mind of a burglar

Do you remember being told “practice makes perfect” as a young child? Well, the bad news is that most burglars also remember being told that and have applied that same philosophy to a life of crime.

Dr Claire Nee has spent over 20 years studying burglary. In a recent study, she analysed responses from 50 experienced burglars to present the ‘dysfunctional expertise’ inside the mind of a burglar.

What is ‘dysfunctional expertise’?

Dysfunctional expertise refers to a burglar’s ability to think outside the box. They look like normal people…but inside the mind of a burglar, they’re always calculating as they walk their dogs and run their errands, constantly making mental notes of what properties are valuable and when they’ll be empty. Over time, this mental note-taking becomes a habit, something that is automatic and second-nature.

What properties look valuable inside the mind of a burglar?

This dysfunctional expertise translates to choosing a property to target. They don’t spend extra time weighing up the pros and cons of each property, they can simply refer to their mental notes, memory and learned cues from previous burglaries.

Here are the features of properties that look valuable to burglars:

  • Located in an affluent area
  • Presence of visible, expensive items
  • Nice car parked in the driveway
  • Expensive decor
  • Absence of alarms and security measures

Some burglars prefer occupied properties

Almost 80% of burglars said they preferred the property to be unoccupied. They would check this by:

  • Seeing if there are lights on
  • Knocking on the door or ringing the bell
  • Checking if the car is in the driveway
  • Seeing if there’s milk left outside

But what’s chilling is that 20% of burglars said they preferred occupied properties, as long as the occupants were asleep. This way they would know exactly where the occupants are and increases the likelihood of wallets, jewellery, handbags and other valuables being inside the property.

Do burglars plan in advance?

It’s true that a lot of burglars don’t plan in advance. Most are opportunistic and impulsive, but different types of burglars act differently.

This is evident in another study conducted by Nee, where she uses a real house to simulate burglaries with 6 former professional burglars and 6 post-grad students. The results were shocking…

The former professional burglars took less items than the post-grad students but wound up with loots averaging £1000 more. A look into the minds of these burglars tells us that they refer to previously learned information from the hundreds of burglaries they’ve committed.

When combined with their dysfunctional expertise, this means experienced burglars unconsciously plan certain burglaries for days, weeks, months and even years.

So what can you do?


  1. Secure all entry points: One of the most common home security mistakes is the lack of vigilance when it comes to securing front and back doors, first floor windows, garages and any other entry points to your home. Make sure you have deadbolts and grills on your windows for added security.
  2. Avoid posting about your holiday on social media: When you’re on a relaxing holiday in Bali sipping on a mojito, it’s the perfect moment to check-in on Facebook. But the reality is that you’re announcing that your home is unoccupied! Before a holiday, make sure you secure your home with our holiday security checklist.
  3. Install motion sensor lights: Most burglars prefer not to enter a property if they think it’s occupied and motion sensor lights can help give the illusion that it’s occupied. They can also help the neighbours see who’s lurking around your property.
  4. Monitor your property with a surveillance system: Statistics indicate that burglars are 2.7x less likely to target homes with home security systems. This means that they not only act as effective deterrents but also gives you valuable footage to give the police. You might be interested in Cammy, a simply security solution that alerts you when an intruder is detected. You can also switch to a live view of your cameras on your smartphone from anywhere, anytime!

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy burglar confessions, a deeper look into the mind of a burglar to show what valuables they look for and how they get into your home.